Throughout “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” I kept waiting for a moment.
A crucial moment of exposition is for the primary characters to stop casting spells and have a real, human moment to get me invested in their story. Any film should be peppered with those moments, something that all eight “Harry Potter” films did masterfully.
That moment never truly shows up in “Beasts.” In its place were more visual effects and surface-level world-building than you can wave a wand at.
And don’t get me wrong, the surface of “Beasts” is dazzling, charming stuff.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magical beast collector, who arrives in 1920s New York with a magical suitcase housing dozens — possibly hundreds — of bright and colorful creatures. While chasing an escaped creature, Scamander inadvertently runs into the non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who accidentally releases a slew of creatures upon unsuspecting New Yorkers.
From there, he’s forced to work with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former Auror for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and her psychic sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). Together, the group chases down the escaped beasts to return them to their temporary home in Newt’s case.
It’s when the group navigates Prohibition-era New York, with its hidden-in-plain-sight magical underbelly, that the film is at its most wondrous. The set designs ooze ’20s Gothic authenticity, and its extension of the wizarding world feels unique and livable.
Each of the wizarding world’s flourishes are on full display, more so than any other “Potter” film. But while the series used the various trinkets and quirks to bring out different elements of characters and personalities, “Fantastic Beasts” does the opposite. The “world” is the new character, while the humans are simply excuses to show off pretty scenery.
Redmayne, with his foppish hair and low, muttering vocal delivery, has no charisma and minimal amounts of personality. Little is known about his character — or any of the main cast, for that matter — and very little reason is given for us to care about his journey besides his passion for animals.
Every romance in the film, specifically the connection between Kowalski and Queenie, is entirely too tenuous and shallow to convince viewers of their legitimacy by the end of the film. There’s no substance, spark or significant moment to let us understand their connection to one another.
Little of the film’s two-hour running time is spent with the characters. Instead, the time we spend mostly consists of jokes or vague quips about their pasts, which annoyingly serve as setups for future sequels.
The most interesting characters are, without a doubt, the villains. The motives of Graves (Colin Farrell) and Credence (Ezra Miller) are kept vague until the finale, and the portions we see are intriguing and rather disturbing at points.
That momentum is ruined, however, when the main villain is used as an excuse to blow up half of the city unexpectedly and with no compelling motive. Most likely to catch viewers’ attentions.
I understand how anyone, especially a die-hard “Potter” fan, could find a lot to love in this world. I just couldn’t find anything real to latch onto like I could in the previous movies. J.K. Rowling, the creator of “Harry Potter,” brilliantly crafted characters with genuine heart in those stories.
I don’t know if Rowling, who wrote this script, has lost her love for the wizarding world — which is possible after the nightmare that was “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — or if she was just trying something new that didn’t turn out the way she envisioned.
Recently, “Fantastic Beasts” was announced to be the first in a five film series and it really shows. Aside from a few scenes, this narrative fails to stand on its own.
While the follow-ups could rise from the ashes of this film and actually be fantastic, the future of the wizarding world is looking awfully grim.
Featured Image: Screenshot from the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” trailer. | Buddha Jones